In The Journey Together, the Ontario government committed to “explore the possibility of creating a new classification for First Nation/federally operated schools.” In Canada, education is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, but the federal government is responsible to provide education to First Nations as part of their treaty obligations recognized under Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act (1982).

The problem is that Ontario’s Education Act only recognizes two kinds of schools: provincially funded public schools and private schools.

This creates a unique position for First Nation and federally run schools, where they are publicly funded schools that are recognized as private schools. While there have been productive relationships between First Nation schools and the province, legislatively First Nation students on reserve do not have access to the resources that exist for the provincially funded system. Creating a third classification for First Nation and federally operated schools could give these schools access to the resources they need.

The First Nations Lifelong Learning Table has identified reclassification of First Nation schools as a key priority for 2017-18.

Currently, the province (represented by the Ministry of Education), the Chiefs of Ontario, and PTOs are conducting bilateral discussions to explore approaches to this issue. Through the First Nations Lifelong Learning Table, which is part of a larger process between the Chiefs of Ontario and the Ministry of Education, COO is engaged in a three year strategic plan to close the education achievement gap.

COO is working with PTOs, IFNs, technical staff, and First Nation communities to define exactly how to proceed. Legislative change would be cumbersome and time consuming to implement, but it would create lasting change that would be more difficult to reverse. On the other hand, policy change can be quickly implemented and may have a similar immediate impact.